Chapter 6


We get to Duluth in the early afternoon. After the first hour of our flight, Bethany finally figured out that she was not going to get anywhere with me. Unfortunately, she had someone sitting next to her who actually was willing to participate in her inane babbling, so I still had to listen to her for the remainder of the flight.

As we enter the baggage claim area of the Duluth airport, we find our driver, waiting and holding a sign that reads: Donner/Martin. The driver helps us get our luggage from the carousel, and then leads us out to the car—another conspicuously inconspicuous black, window-tinted limo. Since the driver is almost definitely not a THEM employee, and just a hired escort, we do not talk business while he is within hearing range. Unfortunately, Bethany of course finds everything else imaginable to talk about.

As we ride through Duluth, I realize I have no idea what our living situation is going to be like. Since I’ve never trained someone before, this is entirely new territory. Under normal circumstances, THEM will put me up in either a house or apartment, depending on the social status of the Dupe I am portraying. But if Zeke expects me to live as a roommate with Bethany for six months and not kill her, he’s going to be seriously disappointed.

Fortunately, it seems they have made separate accommodations for us, as the driver pulls up to an apartment complex and says, “This is Ms. Martin’s stop. Will you be needing Ms. Donner’s address, Ms. Martin?”

I want to tell him, “Hell-to-the-no,” but before I can say anything, Bethany answers, “Yes, please!”

As the driver opens the door for Bethany, he hands her a business card with my new address and telephone number written on the back, then says: “Your boss said to let you know that your company-provided car will be waiting for you in the apartment parking lot—spot number fifty-nine, the same number as your apartment. However, if you need any escort services while you are here, do not hesitate to call that number on the front of this card.”

“Thank you, sweetie,” Bethany says as she climbs out, planting a kiss on the cheek of the chauffer, who blushes and then proceeds to extract her luggage from the trunk.

As the driver brings Bethany’s luggage inside, she leans into the car. “I’ll stop by in a few hours so we can talk about our strategy. See you soon, girlfriend!” She then runs off to catch up with the driver.

Well, at least I’ll get a bit of peace and quiet before having to deal with her again.

After a few minutes, the driver returns and we continue on to my new temporary home. We pull up to another apartment complex. I certainly wasn’t expecting a house, what with allegedly living on a substitute teacher’s salary.

As the driver opens the door for me, he hands me a card with Bethany’s contact info written on the back.

“What? No company-provided car for me?” I ask, as I step out.

“Your boss said to inform you that you are not to drive, and that either Ms. Martin or Duluth Escorts is to be your mode of transportation while here,” the driver responds.

Although I would, of course, much prefer the transportation assistance of Duluth Escorts, I must admit it would look suspicious if a substitute teacher showed up to work each morning in a limo. Damn it.

“Figures,” I sigh. Fortunately, he seems smart enough not to expect a kiss on the cheek from me, and heads straight to the trunk to retrieve my luggage.

The driver carries my luggage as he leads me to my new apartment, number forty-two. Of course, there’s no elevator so we have to climb four flights of stairs. I feel kinda bad for the driver who has to lug those two suitcases all the way up, but not bad enough to offer any help—it’s not like he would let me help anyway.

When we get to the door, he hands me a set of keys and says, “Those will be your new keys. The small one is for your mailbox, the other one will open your door and the main lobby door, as well.”

I open the door for the first time and cross the threshold into my new temporary life. The driver carries my suitcases in for me, I pay him a good tip—certainly not as valuable as a peck on the cheek, but it’s as good as he’s going to get from me—and he goes on his way after wishing me a good afternoon.

I take a look around my new home. Fully furnished. Refrigerator full of food. Only one closet in the bedroom, but I won’t be needing a second one while here, anyway. The apartment’s not huge, but it’s not tiny either. A decently livable space.

On the dining room table is a fruit basket and a bottle of wine with a note from the school’s principal, welcoming me to my new home. I throw the note away and grab an apple.

As I munch the apple, I cross back to the bedroom to do a more thorough inspection. Sitting next to the bed is a bedside table, with one small drawer at the top, and a larger cabinet on the bottom. I kneel down and open the cabinet door, and sure enough, waiting patiently for me is a small safe. I know what’s inside the safe—the detailed case files for the project—and although I really would rather wait before opening it and reading the file, seeing as Bethany will be coming over soon, I figure I should get myself debriefed before she shows up. No doubt, there will be a similar safe with the same contents in her apartment, so it would not be smart if I allow the pupil to become more informed than the teacher.

Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t relax while getting debriefed. I cross into the bathroom and draw a hot bubble bath. Minutes later, I breathe a sigh of relief as I dip into the hot water and bubbles.

I open up the case file and start to read. Toward the end of the previous school year, rumors started going around Vince Vaughn High.

Seriously? There’s a high school named after Vince Vaughn? And they’re surprised that the students are going postal?

Apparently, a group of Goth kids was going to commit a campus rampage. It’s always the effing Goth kids. Just once, can’t it be a group of cheerleaders, damn it?

The ringleader of this particular group of Goths is a kid named Derek Johnson. A picture of the douche is included. Typical angsty, emo, Goth kid. Eyeliner. Hair dyed black as a raven. Skin paler than Sean Patrick Flannery in Powder. Hot Topic wardrobe with depressingly deep quotes from Edgar Allan Poe. Earrings. Nose rings. Lip rings. Chin rings. Probably rings in places I don’t even want to think about. An overall attitude and appearance that screams, “I am a tragically unique individual who is resisting conformity by dressing up like every other tragically unique individual who is resisting conformity by dressing up like every other tragically unique individual resisting conformity.” Fucking hypocrite. Because nothing is more unique than a tired cliché.

Anyway, I read on about Mr. Johnson. In his senior year of high school. Only child. Mom’s a Baptist. Dad’s a Catholic. Spent most of his grade school years traveling around, as his father was in the military. A number of his grade school teachers apparently suspected he was being abused at home, but none of them could come up with enough proof to actually do anything about it. I actually start to feel kinda sorry for him, now. Poor kid had no chance to have any sense of normality with all of those extremes.

I continue to read on. He’s been suspended numerous times for bringing various contraband to school. Had to take the sixth grade twice, after getting suspended for a month for hitting his P.E. teacher. After that there were no more ‘official’ acts of violence during school hours, but plenty of suspected incidents outside school.

I take another good look at his picture, and try to guess if his really is the face of a killer. The fact that he’s a Goth doesn’t mean jack shit. Ninety-nine percent of all Goth kids never hurt a soul; their whole ‘I am a child of the Unholy Darkness’ shtick is nothing more than an act to piss off mommy and daddy.

The fact of the matter is, Zeke rejects almost all of the Zoo Projects that end up on his desk, because once he looks into it, he determines whether the rumors were started by a group of goodie-two-shoe yuppie offspring who got scared by the ‘creepy Goth kids’ because they’re ‘not, like, cool and stuff,’ and that the real victims are the Goth kids who are simply being vilified by cheerleaders and jocks.

But then there’s the one percent of Goths who actually are dangerous. Apparently Zeke has determined there is enough violence and disturbance in Derek’s past to warrant a possible threat, otherwise I would not be here, soaking in a bubble bath in Duluth, Minnesota. It’s Zeke’s job to determine if a threat does exist, and it’s mine to eliminate that threat, so I trust his judgment.

There are six other kids in Derek’s Goth Gang. I look at each of their photos, and they’re all basically just clones of Derek and every other Goth cliché imaginable. Because, you know, they are unique rebels.

There’s also a smaller profile list of students who have gotten on the Goth Gang’s bad side, mostly preppy cheerleaders and jocks. And then there’s an even smaller profile list of teachers who have gotten on the Goth Gang’s bad side. These kids and teachers are included, because I will have to kill off some of them in order to keep up the story of Derek and his gang going off the hinge. While suicide pacts aren’t exactly unheard of, the general public tends to assume that if a group of teens are going to kill themselves, they’re going to take down at least a few of their enemies with them, and since it’s my job to make the case raise as little suspicion as possible, giving the public what they expect is usually the safest approach. I’m not supposed to kill any more of the ‘good guys’ than necessary (although, truth be told, I’d rather go after them than the Goths), but every game of Chess must see the death of some pawns.

Most of the casualties, however, will be from the Goth Gang. Derek, being the Herring, of course will be the very last to go. Once I’m done with the others, I will stage Derek’s death to look like he killed himself once he was done. I most likely will not kill off the entire Goth Gang. For the first several months of the assignment, I will watch them all closely and try to determine which ones are just posers, and which ones—like Derek—show signs of legitimately being threats. I’ll do my best to let the posers live, and hope that they will be traumatized enough by the experience to turn their lives around.

I leave Derek and his Goth Gang and move on to learn about Jennifer Donner: Me. I have just moved into town from Grand Rapids—the reason for the move is for me to figure out; I decide to settle on a bad breakup, as this will give me a nice, convenient excuse to avoid any romantic entanglements while I’m here. I have no desire for such nonsense, anyway. I received my education degree from Wisconsin State University, and moved to Minnesota after graduation. I will be stepping in for Janice Dixon, an English teacher, who is on leave for the next six months as she undergoes chemotherapy treatments.

While undeniably unfortunate for Ms. Dixon, her illness proves convenient for the assignment. Usually I don’t get the luxury of staying in one class for the entire six months of a Zoo Project, and have to float around from class to class. Since I’m something of a ‘special’ employee for the school, and they need me to be on campus as much as possible, they always find ways to make sure I have a class to teach—suspend one of their ‘problem’ teachers for a week or two, put a dosage of heavy laxatives into the faculty lounge’s coffee pot, stuff like that—but it’s certainly easier when they don’t have to resort to those measures.

I then read up a bit on Bethany’s story. She is going to be a transfer student in her senior year of college at the University of Minnesota Duluth, obviously majoring in education. She will be a student teacher in my class, so she can learn the ropes, so to speak.

Bethany being with me adds an unfortunate complication to our exit strategy. If it were just me, I could simply leave some time after the killing is done under the excuse that I was too crushed by the horrific murder of so many of my students. But for two teachers, who just moved into the area and started at the school within the last six months, to disappear shortly after a series of murders—way too transparent. Probably the simplest and easiest thing to do would be to fake her death and make her be Derek’s final victim, before killing himself. If only Zeke would let me actually kill her, then I wouldn’t have to invent a reason for there being no body. Oh, well. I’ll figure out something.

As if Bethany could read my mind, I hear the beep of my phone. I lean over and lay the case file down on the floral-patterned tiles of the bathroom floor, then sit myself up and reach up to the counter, where I had placed my cell. I flip it open, and sure enough, there’s a text from Miss Happiness 2016: “On my way! CU soon, GF!”

“Fucking hell,” is what I want to say, but even though I’m alone I need to start getting into character. So, instead, I say, “Captain Hammer’s nipples,” and pull myself out of my bath.

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